Saturday, August 26, 2017

A new digital anthology

I have put together a new digital anthology: a set of 11 essays about famous Indian ladies (who also happen to be married to famous Indian gents). You are can buy it for just 80 Indian rupees via the Juggernaut app. There will be no print edition for this, so go ahead and start reading at once.

Here's a little preview with my introduction to the collection that offers some context to the book:

And here is a brief extract from one of the essays, about the unparalleled Asha Bhonsle: 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Inside a rape story

A rape story

Annie Zaidi

It's not science fiction and it's not the nation's growth story. It's the rape story we are all living inside of.

In this rape story, your female/male/trans body is owned broadly by the state but specifically and practically by your father, and next to him, your elder brothers, and next to them, your uncles and your younger brothers. They decide who to hand over your body to. This new person now has rights to access your body, its seed and its fruit.

Sometimes money exchanges hands in this story. The new owner of a female body takes money in addition to control over your body because he will now have to feed, maintain, clothe your body. Because its old owners have paid heavily and are unlikely to get back what they paid, they no longer want to take responsibility for your body should you return, broken and fearful.

In this rape story, there are rapists but some of them are designated defenders of public law and order. And there are victims but it is imperative that they not be called rape victims, else the rape would have to stop. So the victims are called public enemies. This is vital in order to ensure the stripping off of their clothes, the kicks to their groins, the stones and sticks thrust into their bodies, whip lashes on their haunches and legs, electric shocks to their private parts, their damaged nerve endings, their never-mending fractures, and other inventive humiliations such as the forced ingestion of faecal matter and urine, and the photographing and filming of all this so that the humiliation is made eternal and the prospect of future dignity near-impossible.

In this rape story, rapists can retire and live comfortably on public money, some of which also comes from the victims themselves, their families and communities.

In this rape story, a court of law can decide whether or not two bodies who have met are locked into a rape like scenario, even if the two bodies themselves have screamed themselves hoarse that this is not rape but love.

In this rape story, a body ceases to be a child-like body if its owners have bartered it away too soon to whoever would take it.

In this rape story, the name of romantic/sexual love is overwritten with rape, and in the name of familial love, rape is offered on a platter decorated with symbols of divinity and all the holy blessings mother earth bestows such as grain, sugar, turmeric.

In this rape story, a court of law – and the state with all its given power and resources – cannot give a safe refuge to a body fleeing rape. Such bodies are always returned to their owners with the tacit knowledge that they will be bartered or destroyed.

In such stories, it is also essential that ideas be propagated about body worth in such a manner that the body always has the least control over what is done to it. Ideas such as how the value of the body decreases with use, rather than increases. Ideas such as how the body is fickle and greedy and deserves to be punished further if it has been hurt in the past.

There is no word for the pain of smiling for photographs after having survived violence and pain in some room of the house. In this story, the fact of having stood beside your rapist and having smiled into the camera cancels out rape.

Force is the pinnacle of aspiration in such stories. To reject the wishes and desires of one body, or a state of bodies, or the greater majority of bodies in a nation, is seen as glorious. To impose upon another's body the wishes of a handful of bodies that have acquired money enough buy off the bodies of other service providers, is seen as glorious and morally correct.

In this story, rapists occupy positions – they manage businesses, sell bouquets, guard apartment complexes, melt steel, run city councils and state departments. It is assumed that businesses would not run, homes would not be guarded, steel would not melt and states would be ungovernable were rapists not permitted to do what they do. It is assumed that victims are dispensible for they run nothing and own very little. They are needed to make new humans, but that purpose can also be achieved via rape and thus, this story continues.

All these stories are told and re-told, and enacted and reviewed every day, everywhere. These stories sometimes nauseate their listeners, and often their tellers. But these stories are never nullified. Thus, a rape culture is constructed that we all live inside of.    

Sunday, August 06, 2017

A Rift on the Road

There they were, coming apart right in front on me. A man wearing a moustache, walking fast, turning around to spit out angry words. A harsh, loud, “Get Lost! Get away from me!”

A girl followed, a few steps behind. Skinny fit jeans and pointy heels. She murmured something I couldn't quite hear, but I caught her tone. It was half-way between placatory and indifferent.

I slowed down until both could overtake me, allowing them a chance to get away from this fraught moment with a modicum of dignity. It was a moment in which two people, held together by God alone knows what force, were coming apart at their own seam. There was no way of knowing whether this moment would decide the rest of their lives or whether it was a scene that played itself out frequently in this relationship. Perhaps he did get away from her. Perhaps she got him in the end.

It is funny how so much of our private business, even our inner lives, spills out into the streets everyday. The most private conversations are conducted in full public hearing. On the sidewalk, in trains and buses, and more recently, inside shared cabs, I overhear – and politely pretend not to be overhearing – dozens of young people fighting, flirting, or just making the sort of ordinary confessions that they may never make in the hearing of friends or colleagues. If they're not together, then they're walking about, phone pressed to their ears. A girl giggling about how many holidays she's already planning, and inviting a boy to come visit her even though she does have a flatmate, but it will be okay. Or a young man, walking in tight circles on the sidewalk, saying “Hmm.... Um... Uh-huh?” for a good forty minutes. Or a middle-aged woman shouting into the phone, “No, don't call me! Don't call me. And don't come crying to me when she's chewed you up and spat you out.” Or a young man saying, “Oh, shut up and wait up. You know you don't have to go just yet. Don't act so pricey.”

In Indian cities, these conversations acquire an additional bittersweet flavour given that there is such risk associated with love. Most citizens have very little privacy at home. Certainly, single individuals having their own bedrooms is very rare. But even if they do have bedrooms, they don't always feel free to express themselves with other family members listening in. And so, they take their most difficult conversations outdoors. In Mumbai, I've often spotted many young people talking outside a residential building. It is a reasonably safe place to hang about and they do not particularly care if strangers can hear them.

I sometimes wonder if outdoor public spaces are not essential to the safe enactment of intense private emotion. Perhaps it is easier to act with restraint, to remember that one must not behave like a possessed demon or throw things at each other in the presence of other people who do not particularly care how this whole affair turns out. And how much easier it is to walk and talk, side by side, without having to look at each other's faces. One need not be felled by a smile that does not quite reach the eyes, at least not immediately. One can catch one's breath even as one is being disembowelled. One can hurry away, like that moustachioed man hurrying away from the petite woman, crossing the road so that the rift is manifest.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

If (with Kipling's blessings)

If you can measure yourself
with the eye scales of the woman
who survived your enemy

If you can hold the woman
you had leaned into until she warmed
and, looking into her eyes, say
why you are afraid

If you can walk out of the shadow
of your father's failing,
your mother's distress,
and then if you can turn to the cleansing heat
of summer sun and make a vow
to care a little less

If you can make flowers flower
on poisoned land
and kiss every fruit

If you can shut up
about a woman's dress when
you do not hope to wear it

If you can mutely nod
when women speak of what is done
in your name

If you can say,
never again!
and mean it

If you can stare deep into the well
of your heart and drink
up your twisted truths
and speak, though aflame 
with shame

If you can build the grand things
that feed your hate

If you can cook the animals
your ancestors ate

If you can smile at neighbours
who will not cease their cry of 'apart! apart!' 
and invite them in every weekend
for their antidote of art

If you can build a school
where all-all-all is the norm

If you can build a storm shelter
for lovers on the run

If you can take the place of sons
murdered for the wrong hat
or those mothers stripped and paraded
for living with their pride intact

If you can learn to dance 
just because no one dances
any more

If you can sing the song 
of the weak when their throats 
are too sore

If you can hear the howls outside
and step out, 
armed or not

If you can turn away from 
those videos of the naked 
and the harmed

If you can rally against those 
who trade off your will
for wealth 

If you can force your vote to translate
into water, hope and health

If you can let the gods be,
One or many or all,
let them speak from themselves 
from above

You will have learnt to be a man, 
my brother, my friend, my love.

(c) Annie Zaidi

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